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'Golos' submitted complaint to CEC, claiming that access to surveillance videos from polling stations is restrained

Russia, claiming that the surveillance cameras installed at polling stations were operating on the Election Day, 18 September.

Andrei Buzin, Yuri Gurman, Arkady Lyubarev, Gregory Melkonyants and Udot Roman addressed the obstacles in accessing those surveillance recordings from polling stations. The experts pointed out that the access was very impeded in Moscow city, Moscow region (Reutov, Korolev, Ivanteevka, Mytishchi and Serpukhov), the Republic of Bashkortostan, Chelyabinsk region, Krasnoyarsk territory and Rostov Region.

'We are facing a situation where a lot of money has been spent on installation of video surveillance, but the video content is rather inaccessible to the election participants', - they have stated.

In the opinion of 'Golos' experts, the main hindrance is unwillingness of election officials to provide citizens with more detailed information about what has been happening at polling stations on the Election Day.

The movement experts call upon the CEC to address the issue and to amend the provisions and change the interpretation of laws.

Complaint on officially installed security cameras used to record voting and vote count processes on the Election Day, 18 September 2016

It is well-known that on the Election Day, 18 September 2016, in Russia, video surveillance cameras were installed at some polling stations. The cameras were recording the process of voting and vote count at polling stations. These video surveillance cameras were installed with the support of executive authorities and contractors based on decisions taken by the election officials. What concerns the legal basis for installation of surveillance cameras and access to video content, the respective Decrees of Russian CEC No. 142 / 1076-6 of 26 September 2012 and No. 45 / 453-7 of 31 August 2016, as well as the decisions of election commissions of territorial entities of the Russian Federation must be taken into consideration.

The purpose of video surveillance is to increase openness and transparency of procedures carried out by election commissions, in respect to one of the election standards enshrined in the Russian Federation law (paragraph 5, Article 3 of the Federal Law 'On basic guarantees of electoral rights and the right to participate in a referendum of citizens of the Russian Federation'). The 2012 Presidential Election in Russia showed that the security cameras are rather effective means to get closer to this goal.

In 2012, the procedure for the installation of surveillance cameras (including the procedure for access to video content) has been provisioned in the decree of Russian CEC. Already then, the election participants encountered difficulties in accessing the recordings and criticized the procedure for accessing such videos.

In 2016, the obstructions got worse, particularly, since the election commissions of each territorial entity of the Russian Federation were authorized to set up their own procedure for access to the video content. Therefore, in 2016, the election participants did not manage to access those recordings in some regions, or had a very limited access.

The regional commissions have introduced too short terms of election materials storage: in nine federal territorial entities - three months, in one – four months, in two - six months. Moreover, regional authorities plead the high cost of video storage. In our opinion, the last argument, to put it mildly, seems to be cunning: if we speak about the cost of new hard drives storage, it constitutes less than one percent of total spending on video surveillance (watch the video footage

Thus, we are facing a situation where sizable funds have been allocated for installation of video surveillance cameras, but the recordings are rather inaccessible. Therefore, this fact does not improve the public credibility of election results.

To the best of our knowledge, it was impossible to access the video content or the access was significantly impeded in Moscow, Moscow region (Reutov, Korolev, Ivanteevka, Mytishchi and Serpukhov), the Republic of Bashkortostan, Chelyabinsk region, the Krasnoyarsk territory and Rostov region. The election commissions of the Republic of Bashkortostan and Moscow region did not set up its own procedure for access to video content, therefore, they were guided by the CEC decree No. 142 / 1076-6 of 26 September 2012.

Restrained access to the video content undermines the significance of surveillance cameras, as it is always referred to the security cameras when declaring the openness of our elections. The main problem lies within the reluctance of election officials to provide citizens with more information about what happened at polling stations. However, it should be noted that the regulatory framework contributes to this negligence. The CEC decree No. 142 / 1076-6 of 26 September 2012 determines two ways to access the recordings - via the Ministry of Communications of Russia (no justification for the access is required) or election commissions (in this case, only voters or candidates whose rights have been violated are entitled to require access to video content). In 2016, due to the uncertainty induced by the CEC decree No. 45 / 453-7 of 31 August 2016, the Ministry of Communications managed to obviate requests for recordings, whereas the election commissions claimed that only election participants 'whose rights had been violated by actions (or inaction) of the precinct election commission or territorial election commission' were entitled to access the video content.

However, the same body establishes whether the rights have been violated, as well as decides on the access to the video content. Moreover, the very definition of violation is not very detailed. For example, the rights of voter who cast a vote at one polling station may be violated at another polling station of the same constituency, as the district election commissions establish the voting results, rather than the precinct election commission.

We believe that the Central Election Commission of Russia respectively must take into consideration the barriers to access to the video content which emerged after the Election Day, 18 September 2016.

We also believe that the legal framework and interpretation of regulations on video surveillance at polling stations should be significantly amended. These are the following recommendations:

  1. To provision at least one year term of video storage;
  2. To eliminate the requirement to prove violation of applicant's electoral rights to access recordings;
  3. Jointly with the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to develop measures aimed at increasing the use of video content as evidence in court.

The board of 'Golos' movement advocating for the voters’ rights: Andrey Yurevich Buzin, Yuri Albertovich Gurman, Arkady Yefimovich Lyubarev, Grigory Abramovich Melkonyants and Roman Nikolayevich Udot.